Ask the Clark Gardener

Dear Fellow Gardeners:


March 10, 2011. “But yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.”

At least, not yet… Those lyrics from a really old song kept replaying through my mind as I drove to Clark Botanic Garden today. I’ve been eagerly awaiting a shipment of tissue culture propagated plants from one of Clark’s suppliers since Tuesday (today is Thursday). First, I received an e-mail last Friday indicating a crop failure of one of the plant varieties ordered. That led to a late Friday afternoon conversation with the supplier to figure out a replacement plant for part of Clark’s order.  Shipment was to occur on Monday.  Using a tracking number provided, I found that the shipment went nowhere on Monday. Another call to the supplier on Tuesday. Because of seasonal volume, the shipper wasn’t given our order from the supplier until Tuesday. The shipment made it from Longwood, Florida to Orlando, Florida Tuesday night. It was in Indianapolis, Indiana for a good part of yesterday. And this morning, it is in Newark, New Jersey awaiting land delivery to Clark on Long Island, New York.

 

Meanwhile, with the help of one of Clark’s volunteers, I have had 350 pre-filled pots ready since last week for the shipment of Alocasia, Caladium, Cordyline, Syngonium, Alpinia, Musa (banana), Christia and Cyperus. Another volunteer was here at 7:15 in the morning yesterday to help fill those pots with the delivered plants. Uhhhhh … unfortunately, I neglected to tell her that the shipment was delayed.  That led to my being lectured about treating her like chopped liver and my feeling like a whipped dog for a good part of the day.

    

So, here I am. I feel like a pianist at the beginning of a concert. I’m poised, my hands are raised to begin the concert (the Banana Concerto?), but the music sheets (plants) are missing. Soon, the concert will begin. There will be a rhapsody of tiny plants being popped from their shipping flats, soil flying, water spraying, and explosive growth beginning.


This story of one shipment of plants is just a small part of the ballet that is ongoing in order to bring fantastic and beautiful seasonal displays to Clark Botanic Garden’s visitors.

 

The Clark main greenhouse (and its “annex” attached to the Clark House) is currently home to many tender plants dug up in the fall to winter over there in pots. In addition, last fall, Clark staff started 27 types of plants from cuttings with multiple cultivars for many types. These too are in the main greenhouse. An upstairs room in the Clark House is the winter home for many succulents under artificial lighting. Another upstairs room, a cool sunroom, is the winter home for potted plants that can tolerate cooler than greenhouse temperatures. Rhizomes and tubers of Cannas, Alocasias, and Colocasias wintered over dormant in the Clark House basement and are beginning to be brought into the main greenhouse to wake up.


And then there are the seeds. A more modern song comes to mind when I think about these – Hungry Eyes.  Every year, as the new seed catalogs come in, Clark staff members prepare their “wish lists” of what they want to grow for our visitors.  New types of plants, new cultivars, and old favorites all demand attention from our hungry eyes. For this planting season, we ordered over 160 packets of seeds that will require starting in the main greenhouse (in about 936 square feet)!  Another 16 batches of seeds harvested in the fall from plants growing in Clark Botanic Garden last year will also get started in the main greenhouse. Still another 24 packets of seeds will get direct sown outside once the weather warms sufficiently.


The choreography needed to get all the seed planting done and plants sufficiently developed for the proper outside planting time is dizzying. When will the young plants be planted in the ground? What is the germination time for each type of seed? Some take a few days, some a few weeks or more to sprout. Which seeds need to be pre-chilled (stratified), nicked (scarified), or soaked to enhance germination? Which seeds should be covered; which sown on the surface? Which seeds need light to germinate; which prefer darkness? Which seeds prefer warmth to germinate; which prefer cool temperatures? Once the little plants start to grow, which prefer sun versus shade? Which plants will grow quickly; which slowly?  Which plants will need to be pinched before they are planted out? Which will need to be transplanted to pots from cell packs before planting in the ground? Which plants are vines and need support, and which are upright?  Which plants have more cold tolerance and can be moved to the coldframe comparatively quickly (making more room in the greenhouse), and which ones would suffer irreparable harm if moved outside the greenhouse too quickly?

 

And that’s not all!  What are the watering requirements for each type of young plant? Which require above average soil moisture or average moisture, and which ones will rot if kept too moist? Which young plants could really benefit from a fertilizer boost? Which types of plants are more prone to get pesky critters that will need to be dealt with? No white flies yet this season, but darn those scale insects and aphids ….


Don’t think that the only frenzied activity right now is around the Clark greenhouse. The snow is finally gone and so much work can now be done throughout Clark Garden. Continuing to clean up the leaves from last fall that froze to the ground or got covered with snow, pruning, clearing downed limbs and winter killed sections of plants, weeding (already), and preparing and mulching planting beds are just a few tasks that need to be done.

At the same time, nature quietly and insistently does its own thing. On just a casual walk through Clark Garden, one notices tulips breaking ground and some daffodils just about ready to start blooming. Witch hazel has been blooming for weeks. Galanthus and Leucojum flowersstartle one with their bright green markings if one takes the time to stoop down to observe closely. There is winter jasmine and winter aconite with their yellow blooms. Hellebores bloom in muted tones. And Star of Bethlehem plants, although not blooming yet, are weedy in the otherwise empty annual beds.


Come, visit Clark Botanic Garden as Spring begins. Be enticed by the Educational Programs and Children’s Saturday Programs sections of our website. For a more intimate experience at Clark Garden, check the Volunteering section of our website on how to make a personal contribution to the gem that is Clark Botanic Garden. And, if you have a comment, horticultural question, or general question about Clark Botanic Garden, remember to send them to me at CBGardener2@gmail.com.


The Clark Gardener

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